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Guardians Challenges Fed's Denial of Protection for Caribbean Electric Ray

Agency Refuses to Consider Listing Despite Population Declines, Ongoing Threats

Washington, DC – WildEarth Guardians today challenged in court National Marine Fisheries Service’s (NMFS) rejection of a petition to list the rare Caribbean electric ray under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

“It is urgent that this rare fish be considered for listing,” said Taylor Jones, Endangered Species Advocate for WildEarth Guardians. “NMFS’ refusal to do so is contrary to the best available science, which warns that the ray is on the brink of extinction.”

The Caribbean electric ray is named for its ability to produce an electric charge: 14-37 volts, a small jolt but not enough to harm a human. It may use this ability to stun prey such as sandworms and crustaceans, or to defend itself from predators including larger fish and sharks. It is the only electric ray that lives in the coastal waters of the United States, and is found southward from the coast of North Carolina, along the Gulf coast and both the eastern and western coasts of Florida, and throughout the Greater and Lesser Antilles Islands of the Caribbean to the north coast of South America.

The greatest threat to the ray is shrimp trawling; these small, slow-swimming fish are easily caught as “bycatch” during trawling operations in the shallow waters the rays call home. Guardians’ petition to list the ray received a negative 90-day finding from NMFS in March 2011.

In order to receive a positive 90-day finding and trigger a full status review of a species, a petition must present enough evidence to convince “a reasonable person” that the species may be warranted for listing. Guardians is challenging NMFS’ assertion that the petition would fail to convince a reasonable person. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the largest professional global conservation network, lists the ray as “critically endangered” based on several objective measures including an estimated population reduction of 80 percent or more rangewide and a documented 98 percent decline in the Caribbean electric ray population in the northern Gulf of Mexico since 1972. The IUCN found that similar population declines are likely occurring in other portions of the ray’s range where trawling is prevalent but data are unavailable. NMFS’ claim that the population is “stable” and “relatively common” flies in the face of data from a 30-year survey during which only 78 Caribbean electric rays were captured.

“The IUCN is comprised of reasonable people,” continued Jones. “They have come to the conclusion that the Caribbean electric ray is practically extinct in the wild. Yet NMFS wants to dismiss the comprehensive work of the world’s top scientists with hand-waving and guesswork.”

Listing under the ESA has proven an effective safety net for imperiled species: more than 99 percent of plants and animals listed under the Act persist today. The law is especially important as a bulwark against the current extinction crisis; plants and animals are disappearing at a rate much higher than the natural rate of extinction due to human activities. Scientists estimate that 227 species would have gone extinct if not for ESA listing.


 

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